‘When a Stranger Calls Back’ is the made-for-TV sequel to the original 1979 film, ‘When a Stranger Calls,’ which was the #ThrowbackThursday subject I wrote about last week. It is directed, once again, by Fred Walton, and written by Walton and Steve Feke, as is the original film. The same premise exists in this film as in the original: a maniac terrorizes a babysitter. This time, however, the story flows much better, and the years have obviously improved upon Walton’s directorial abilities.
The film opens up with a young girl, Julia, arriving to babysit for a doctor and his wife. After they leave, someone begins to knock on the front door, saying they are having car trouble. Julia offers to call someone for them, but finds out the phone line isn’t working. She pretends to call the number instead. The tension grows, as she is more and more uncomfortable with the person that keeps coming back to the door. She tries to look out the window, but can’t see anyone. The situation amplifies as her anxiety grows. The person at the door tells her there is someone in the house with her. She turns to see someone coming at her. She makes it out the door and runs into the waiting arms of the doctor, who has just returned. An empty raincoat is lying on the driveway. The case goes unsolved, and the children end up missing.
We are then “flash-forwarded” a few years, and Julia is now a college student. She is quiet, shy, and apprehensive, all caused by the previous experience. Quickly we see that something strange is going on when it appears that someone has been in her apartment. Julia seeks assistance from the police, where she is introduced to Jill Johnson (actress Carol Kane reprising her role from the original film). Kane gives a good performance as a counselor that can relate to Julia’s trauma, having endured her own as a young lady. She is a tough woman that also teaches other women self-defense moves. Another character returning for this film was Charles Durning as John Clifford, a now-retired cop. Durning played the role in the original movie with more passion, but having the two familiar actors was a good move, considering ‘When a Stranger Calls Back’ wasn’t even a theatrical release.
Jill believes Julia and takes her case personally because of the similarity with her own experience. Clifford seems a little more jaded and questions whether Julia is lying about the odd things that begin to happen. For instance, her apartment is on the third floor, but she wakes one morning to find the windows above her bed open. Jill takes her to buy a gun and to a shooting range to learn how to use it. Jill also offers to stay with her, but Julia is determined to not let this ruin her life. Meanwhile, Clifford tries to find out anything he can about the suspect. Viewers are introduced to the man who is after Julia in a strip club, where he works as a ventriloquist. Not your usual act, I would assume. He is wearing all black clothing and has any skin that is exposed painted black. It really adds to the creepiness of his character and shows you that this individual is probably not, shall we say, playing cards with a full deck, mentally.
Clifford and Jill go back to the house where the original crime took place with Julia. The police had suspected two men were involved since one was talking to her outside the door while the other was in the house. Charles posits that there really was only one suspect and that the person had been throwing their voice. The movie eventually comes full circle and wraps up with a bit of a surprise ending, which I won’t completely spoil here!
All in all, the movie flowed decently, and the storyline was fairly intriguing. Throughout, I kept wondering who it was that was after Julia, especially at the beginning. However, there were inconsistencies, and questions left unanswered, which bothered me. For instance: where did the children go? Jill was married and had kids in the last movie, what happened to them? Also, what was the motive for the killer to go after Julia?
The story is better in this film than in the original version. This film keeps its interest on Julia throughout, as compared to the strange off-shoot that was in the original with the woman from the bar. It flows nicely, has decent character arcs, and gives a satisfying conclusion, but again, the inconsistencies have to be factored in. The quality of this film is that of your typical made-for-TV movie. It’s not great, but it could be worse. There were some good, creepy scenes that carried on the ambiance from the first film. A particularly disturbing one is when Julia is in the hospital: we are able to see how the killer feels nothing about hurting others. It appears to have had a little bigger budget than the original, but not by much.
In summation, I can’t say that I would necessarily recommend you to go out of your way for this one, but if you’re a fan of the original (or the original’s remake, which will be our subject matter for next week’s column!), then you’ll likely enjoy the experience of watching the sequel.